Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has always been a man to make hockey trades—trades that benefit both teams without declaring anyone an outright seller. The Tom Gilbert for Nick Schultz trade is a perfect example. As such, with Minnesota ranked 3rd in the Western Conference with just 14 games to go, Fletcher isn’t looking to trade away any valuable assets. With that in mind, he has to look not at who isn’t expendable to this team’s future, but who is—that’s not a very long list. So, when Minnesota is listed among the teams interested in Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, it’s worth wondering what San Jose is looking for in return.
There are very few prospects Fletcher would find easy to part with, and just one or two decent veteran forward options that are expendable in the Wild lineup. Those two are likely Pierre-Marc Bouchard…and former San Jose Shark Dany Heatley. Seeing as it is very unlikely that Heatley returns to San Jose, Bouchard is likely the only option that Minnesota is willing to deal.
When healthy, he has been one of the most reliable players in the Wild lineup, until this season, that is. Butch started out the season on the third line with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck, notching a goal and an assist in the first two games of the season. The offense would then dry up for #96 as he would score just one goal and two assists in the next 18 games while notching a negative-2 rating. During that time, he fluctuated between the second, third and fourth lines, and was even a healthy scratch in three consecutive games. With the emergence of young guns Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, it appeared Bouchard was now the odd man out.
However, in the past nine games since being reinserted into the lineup, Butch has made a statement with two goals and eight assists for ten points and a plus-6 rating in that span. Coincidentally, Minnesota has only lost once since Butch was put back in the lineup. Bouchard has once again been his incredibly brilliant self and has been a key cog on Minnesota’s red hot second line with Cup-winning veteran center Matt Cullen and lethal young goal-scorer Devin Setoguchi. The second line has been great in general during the latter part of this season, with Coach Yeo being able to alternate guys like Bouchard, two time 50-goal scorer Heatley and rookie speedster Jason Zucker on the opposite wing of Setoguchi. So, while Bouchard has certainly benefitted the secondary scoring, he isn’t the only option to play with Cullen and Seto.
The question many Wild fans are asking right now is if Bouchard is more beneficial as a seasoned veteran to help lead the team to a deep playoff run, or as trade bait to the right partner. One thing you can be sure of is that his stock has never been higher this season and, with the trade deadline set for April 3rd—this Wednesday—teams are taking a serious look at the 8th overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
With the news that San Jose is looking for a youngster the caliber of the Flyers’ Sean Couturier, it’s not too hard to imagine that the Sharks would love to have Coyle sent back—that’s just flat out not going to happen. Fletcher wants to make a hockey trade, Sharks GM Doug Wilson wants to get younger—can they compromise? Clowe is the perfect power forward, provides a ton of depth and grit and can score goals, but is he worth giving up a guy like Johan Larsson, Zack Phillips, Mario Lucia or Zucker for? Only time will tell, however I do feel that Fletcher will address his defensive needs before he addresses the offense. When it comes down to it, I highly doubt Clowe will be in a Wild sweater when Minnesota visits San Jose on Sunday night. Then again, he probably won’t be in a Sharks sweater, either.